Show Up and Do the Work

Painting and Hiking have some things in common and in other ways they are polar opposites.

I need both activities in my life but for very different reasons. Hiking is input: nature, fresh air, get the body moving. Painting is output: show what I notice, make connections, communicate ideas.

photo of a snowy path
I took the less traveled path. Doesn’t it look more inviting?
watercolor sketch in black and white of a snowy path
The path less traveled leads to a more interesting place. I am still figuring out how to make the footprints look like indents, not lumps.

Both painting and hiking are achieved by many small actions. One more step, one more step. In both it is possible to get lost in the repetition of small actions. That feeling of being in the zone of automatic productive action is amazing. It is almost a meditative state. It does take some effort but each step leads to the next. There are interesting things to look at along the way. Sometimes surprises happen, even when in a place I have been before. Familiar things change with the seasons. Sometimes I notice the footprints of others, sometimes I am the first to be there. When the experience is like this, I feel fully alive. Hiking is almost always like this. When painting is like this, I make my best work.

Lately I have had more success with maintaining my hiking routine but less success with maintaining my painting routine. To be successful at hiking I simply need to show up and put in the miles. I can do that. There is no such thing as being good or bad at hiking. If you are putting one foot in front of the other, you are hiking. Painting is a little different. There is more to it than simply showing up and moving the brush across the paper or canvas. There is such a thing as being good or bad at painting.

Wait. Stop.

sunset, snow, trees
An a-ha moment on Rice Creek Trail North

The a-ha moment I had when hiking yesterday was the fallacy of that statement. I am not in a painting class. There will not be grades. The only requirements on my paintings are the ones I put there myself.

It is not my job to make sure that everything I create is amazing. It is my job to show up and do the work. Art does not have to be complicated, but I do tend to make it that way. I need to just put one foot in front of the other.

I am still fighting to overcome the perfectionism that has always crippled me. There is still fear that what I create will not be good, but creating nothing is no good either. I try to create and it does not turn out as I hoped. I see that I need more practice to hone my skills. I have been doing this how many years now and still my skills are only at this level? What am I even doing?

What I am doing is creating responses to things I have noticed. What I create is not good or bad, it is my response. It is authentically me. That is why I must paint. It is how I am me.

leaf, sketch, and orange painting on an easel
I’m returning to a strategy that was suggested to me last summer. Paint backgrounds. Draw on top of them when they are dry.

The belief that hiking and painting are different in the amount of talent required is false. I do not need to judge my performance in either one. I am aware that those who need to earn their living from their paintings may have a different view. I am speaking for my situation. I struggle to get anything down on the canvas or paper.

I know the solution: Show up and do the work.

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